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Simonas Svegzda

May 05, 2020 7 min read

Among many use cases for web scraping, one that is rapidly rising in popularity in the world of e-commerce is web scraping for product listings. What are the benefits of web scraping for product details and how should a company approach it? Should you build your own data scraper or use a third-party service? What should you keep in mind before settling on a decision? In this article, you will learn the answers to these questions and hopefully have a clearer idea of what could be the best solution for your company.

The value of web scraping product listing data

Before continuing to the specifics, let’s briefly discuss the value that web scraping product listing data brings to a business. Although web scraping as a technique can be applied in a near infinite amount of contexts, things are much clearer when trying to figure out what web scraping is for e-commerce.

As is the case with much of the big data used in business, continuously gathering and processing large amounts of product listing data gives companies, namely retail sites, a huge competitive advantage.

A growing number of e-commerce businesses are already extracting and analyzing pricing data, seasonal trends or product categories from their direct retail competitors or online marketplaces. This allows them to:

  1. Generate actionable insights
  2. Make informed decisions 
  3. Dynamically adapt to the needs of the market

In a nutshell, having a continuous stream of product listing data allows companies to both keep an eye on market trends and also automatically adjust their own offerings to ensure maximum appeal and relevance. Essentially, this is a win-win situation since the customer also benefits from increased competition.

Data center proxies for product listing scraping

As a side note, our own aggregated internal data shows that in 2019 the number of requests to e-commerce sites made from Real-Time Crawler grew by an impressive 260% compared to the prior year (see more findings in Oxylabs’ 2020 Trend Report). This number perfectly illustrates that the whole e-commerce industry is currently going through a change and is adopting web scraping as a standard business procedure.

Examples of data points

What kind of data is gathered from e-commerce sites? Here are the main data points that interest companies engaging in web scraping for product listings:

  1. Product name
  2. Short description
  3. Full description
  4. Price
  5. Ratings

Naturally, each company has differing interests and gathers the data that is of value specifically to them so other data points such as URLs of product image links may also be collected. Going further, let’s take a look at how companies choose to implement web scraping for product listings.

Two approaches: web scraping in-house vs. outsourcing

Ok, so should you hire some new people or outsource the whole thing? Well, it depends. If for any reason you would like to have complete control over the data gathering process, if you do have the right resources including access to experienced talent with the right know-how and, going further, if you are certain about your long-term needs, maintaining the whole operation in-house might make sense.

However, this is usually not the case. The fact is that although it may not sound overly complicated at first, having a reliable and cost-effective data delivery operation all on your own is actually very difficult to pull off. And this is due to a few main reasons:

  1. You would still need to buy proxies from a provider.
  2. The largest e-commerce sites constantly implement new anti-bot measures. The setup that worked yesterday might suddenly stop working tomorrow and it takes lots of experience, brain power and constant experimentation to not fall behind.
  3. Last but not least – even if you do manage to take care of the two aforementioned things – your solution will not be scalable. This means that if for some reason a need will arise to significantly increase the amount of scraped pages – your costs will rise dramatically.

Other factors deserve a mention too. The unclear legality of web scraping some sites could potentially make the operation risky without a legal team to navigate the murky waters and it could also be argued that increasing the number of employees for a task that, after all can be outsourced, might lead to diminished attention to your core business.

Building your own data scraper for in-house web scraping

Data acquisition is an integral part of dynamic pricing
The basic steps of building a web scraper

As you probably already know or at least suspect, building a web scraper for scraping product listings itself is no easy task too. The steps involved require quite a bit of knowledge and skill, however, any task becomes easier when you know the direction. 

As you can see in the graphic above, the basis for any web scraper consists of four main steps, starting with preparing a scraping path (a list of URLs to scrape) and fine-tuning the scripts to finally storing the data. Instead of repeating the same information again, I recommend heading to a recent blog post by our Content manager Adomas that offers in-depth descriptions of each of the steps of this process and even more applicable knowledge on how to approach data gathering for e-commerce.

How to choose the right proxies for product data scraping?

Despite the general arguments against maintaining an in-house operation, there are still enough cases in which building your own in-house web scraper remains a viable solution. Typically, these can work just fine for small-scale projects that help avoid all of the complexities that come with web scraping large amounts of data. 

Yet you will still most likely need to use proxies since these are the basic requirement for nearly all scraping projects. Which type should you choose, data center or residential proxies?

What are data center proxies?

Data center proxies are private proxies that are not affiliated with an Internet Service Provider (ISP). They come from a secondary corporation and provide you with entirely private IP authentication and a high level of anonymity.

Without going too much into detail, the general rule of thumb is to go with residential proxies. Although these are more expensive than data center proxies, they are much harder to block which is especially important when scraping product listings.

What is a residential proxy?

A residential proxy is an IP address provided by an ISP to a homeowner. It is a real IP address attached to a physical location.

We also advise you to take a look at this in-depth blog post on building your own price scraper which has a ton of useful information in case you are considering launching a similar project.

A powerful all-in-one solution: Real-Time Crawler

At this point in the article you are probably already wondering about the alternatives to scraping in-house. Well, we really do have a perfect tool for the occasion. To put it simply, Real-Time Crawler is a tool made specifically for e-commerce and SEO scraping. This means that we guarantee a 100% success rate and all that is left to do for you is to provide your target URLs.

We invite you to check out this short video on what Real-Time Crawler is and how it works:

We have gone into great detail all about what Real-Time Crawler is in our previous blog post. One of the most convincing features of Real-Time Crawler is its ability to be used for tasks of varying scale. So whether you want to scrape 1000 pages a month or 1 billion, it’s ready to get to work and adapt to your needs.

And since you’ll only have to pay for the number of pages scraped, this is also the most cost-effective solution because it means avoiding sinking money into maintaining a huge pool of proxies or a dedicated web scraping team which you might not always utilize fully.

Wrapping up

If you are in a position where building your own web scraper makes more sense, you can simply register and start using Oxylabs’ residential proxies right away. However, if you feel that you would like to discuss your case with our experts, feel free to book a call with our sales team by clicking here. Good luck on your ventures!

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About Simonas Svegzda

Simonas Svegzda is a Content Manager at Oxylabs. Early on, he developed an interest in blogging, online media, internet culture, and what makes the online world spin (you guessed it, it's content). When he’s not fully immersed in extraordinary cyberspace adventures (not giggling at memes), you’ll probably find him at a live music gig or reading fiction.

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All information on Oxylabs Blog is provided on an "as is" basis and for informational purposes only. We make no representation and disclaim all liability with respect to your use of any information contained on Oxylabs Blog or any third-party websites that may be linked therein. Before engaging in scraping activities of any kind you should consult your legal advisors and carefully read the particular website's terms of service or receive a scraping license.

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